Has the pressure now started to mount on Ferrari, or was it just not their weekend? The gap at the top has started to open between race winner Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari main-man Sebastian Vettel and they just lost the Constructors’ Championship lead.
So just what went wrong for them during the opening round of the European season?
|FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1||FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||1:19.098||24||4.||Sebastian Vettel||1:18.585||34|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||1:19.499||19||6.||Kimi Räikkönen||1:18.829||16|
The Italian team brought plenty of upgrades to Spain where most teams usually introduce their first major development changes at the first European event.
A hot topic was their controversial winglet mirrors that hung off the halo. From the eye, it was clear that Ferrari’s goal was to improve aerodynamics rather than rear visibility for the drivers and after a couple of teams up and down pit lane raised concerns, the FIA chose to ban the innovation from the Monaco Grand Prix onwards.
Rivals Mercedes were already on the front foot by the opening practice session. Ferrari suddenly knew they had a mountain to climb to overcome the Silver Arrows at the Barcelona circuit, a track they knew so well from pre-season testing.
Ferrari comfortably stuck to its practice programs in the morning session around the windy and warmer track conditions to February, however, a small hiccup in the afternoon with Kimi Räikkönen’s car hampered his race simulation runs. The team picked up a malfunction within the power unit on the telemetry. The Finn was able to cruise back to pit lane to work on the problems throughout the remainder of the afternoon.
“Everything we put on the car seems to work and that’s important,” said a pleased Sebastian Vettel. “I think the biggest change that has been made is on the tyres, which seem to be quite different. I don’t think they are better than before.
“As for the changes with the rear-view mirrors, it is no big deal. Before, it was quite difficult for us to look at the cars behind. Now they are in a better position and I can see a little bit better below the rear wing.
“Today it was quite slippery and gusty, and it was a mixed day. We can still work on the car and I think we should be stronger tomorrow.”
“The [afternoon] session was a bit messy,” added Räikkönen, “but overall I think it was not too bad.
“The tarmac was the same as we had in testing, but obviously the weather conditions are different. We all know this track very well but every time we come here it’s like starting from zero.
“Maybe it was not the most straightforward Friday, but I think that more or less we know what we should do.
“At one point we had some issues and I was told by the team to stop the car. We still don’t know what happened, but we’ll figure it out. In the evening we’ll have some work to do; we’ll go through everything and understand.
“Tomorrow morning, we might get a better idea and know where everybody is. I’m sure it is going to be close.”
|FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3||QUALIFYING|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||1:17.550||16||3.||Sebastian Vettel||1:16.305||16|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||1:17.581||17||4.||Kimi Räikkönen||1:16.612||15|
The gap started to close by the end of the final practice session with both Vettel and Räikkönen taking third and fourth and gapping around two-tenths of a second off the Mercedes’ out in front prior to Qualifying.
Ferrari stirred the pot, leading the pack throughout the first two stages of Qualifying with the duo locking out the top and Vettel pumping out a storming lap at the end of Q2. Like most of the top ten, the pair elected to run the Soft tyre into Q2, so they could start on the more preferred compound for the race.
However, when push came to shove, they couldn’t match the mighty Mercs and failed to reach the front row at all. The did manage to lock out the second row ahead of both Red Bulls.
It wasn’t the start Ferrari wanted, but it gave them a great chance of slipstreaming their rivals at a circuit with the longest distance from pole to Turn 1 on the calendar.
“It was straightforward in qualifying and then in Q3 during my first run I locked up a little bit in Turn 1, so my first sector was already slow,” explained Vettel post-qualifying.
“I tried to recover and fight for pole, but it was not enough. I didn’t have a great feeling on the tires, which have been different the whole weekend.
“Obviously, I am not entirely happy, but we expected Mercedes to be very strong here. P3 is not a bad place to start from. Tomorrow we’ll focus on the start first, and then we’ll see. It will be a long race and the tyres will be challenging, too.
“Even if the start doesn’t go in our favour, I think we always have a strong car to keep fighting.”
“It was a tricky qualifying, not the ideal one,” further Räikkönen, whose car ran with a new power unit after his Friday troubles.
“In Q3, on my first attempt with the Supersofts, I made a mistake in Turn 1 and went wide [affecting my lap]. At that point, I was in a position where I had nothing to lose, so we decided to try something else.
“In the end, we managed to do a decent job, but obviously we are not satisfied with the result. It’s difficult to predict what will happen in the race and it’s a bit of an unknown for me, considering I couldn’t do the long runs yesterday. We’ll try to make a good start and see how the race pans out.”
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA EMIRATES 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (66 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||66||+ 27.584|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||25||Turbo|
Vettel made a great start keeping with the Mercedes pair and running in the draft of Hamilton’s car. By Turn 1, he was side-by-side with Valtteri Bottas and forced a move around the outside to steal second off the Finn. Meanwhile, Räikkönen failed to gain a position on the opening lap and sat tight in fourth during the opening Safety Car intervention.
On the restart, Vettel struggled to find a response to Hamilton’s pace and broke away from the leader losing valuable time lap-by-lap. The four-time World Champion boxed on Lap 18 to switch to the Medium compound tyres, the hardest of the three sets for the weekend. The decision was off the back of other runners who showed good pace on the white-walled tyres. It was a good approach to take as the German really had nothing to lose with the gap that was opening up.
With an “80% chance of rain” forecast, strategies all race were touch and go in case of an imminent burst of rain. Heavy clouds surrounded the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but no drops fell with only a few drivers pointing out a couple of sprinkles of water were falling at Turn 4.
Bottas reacted to Vettel’s strategy soon after, coming out right behind the Ferrari driver who was squabbling with Kevin Magnussen. It was a crucial moment for Vettel who needed to hold that net second position to split the Mercedes drivers.
Shortly after, Räikkönen faced some serious issues having trouble with his power output due to a turbo issue. The Finn would have to retire for the second consecutive time at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Just over twenty laps out from the finish, a Virtual Safety Car period for the stricken Force India of Esteban Ocon would open up strategies again. As in Melbourne, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel rolled the dice and chose to pit in order to gain fresh rubber without losing as much time as a pit stop under green flag conditions would.
It would crucially mean that they would lose track position in a race where overtaking was already scarce for most of the afternoon. The team elected Vettel to switch to another set of white-walled Mediums, however, a sluggish stop of 5.6 seconds put him behind not only Bottas but Max Verstappen and outside the podium placings from second position.
Despite Verstappen having a damaged front wing, Sebastian couldn’t find a way past the Dutchman and had to settle for fourth. He would finish just seven-tenths behind at the chequered flag after attempting a last-gasp effort to not take as much of a deficit in the championship standings.
“Our tyres didn’t last as long as for the others, so we couldn’t follow the same strategy,” Vettel muttered on Sunday evening.
“We had to stop again, and we obviously lost two positions, and also a bit of time during the pit-stop itself. But staying out was not an option today. We had problems finding the right balance of the car and we were struggling with the front tyres. Maybe the changes for this weekend had a bad impact on us, worse than the ones the others had.
“Today we just didn’t have the right pace, Mercedes was faster than us and we hadn’t made many chances. We tried our best, but something was missing, and we need to improve on this.”
“My race was going pretty well today,” added Räikkönen. “I was in a decent position and the speed was good. I was running smoothly and saving the tyres. Everything could have been alright, but unfortunately, it did not happen.
“We don’t know more than that about the issue we had, we need to take the car back to the factory and check what happened. Looking at the Championship, this result is far from ideal, and I’m pretty disappointed. There is nothing we could have done differently today, but we need to try and keep pushing.”
A quick turnaround is needed for the Maranello crew as they bluntly found out at the end of last season, a good lead can all come crashing down in a handful of races. We now arrive at a track where overtaking is near impossible and a race is won on Saturday rather than Sunday.
Performance between teams will tighten around the twists and turns of Monaco and Ferrari need to a capitalise on a good Qualifying result and maintain order on Sunday with a calm and accurate approach. Their chances of challenging can fade on Lap 1 in Monaco and they would have to wait a whole weekend in Canada before they can get back to closing that gap we all want to be extinct for a great battle for this year’s championship.
Images via Scuderia Ferrari